The Pittsburgh Penguins and UPMC have made the development equivalent of a goalie change in their quest to build a $70 million sports performance center and practice rink in Cranberry.
After working with developer Don Rodgers for nearly a year to build the complex on a 35-acre site on Route 228, they have abandoned the property for another location less than half a mile away but closer to Interstate 79.
Travis Williams, the Penguins’ chief operating officer, said Tuesday the team and UPMC have signed a letter of intent with developer Gary Sippel to build the 180,000-square-foot facility on a parcel adjacent to the interstate.
The move comes only two weeks after a UPMC official appeared before the Cranberry planning commission to detail plans for the complex at Mr. Rodgers’ Village of Cranberry Woods development.
But Albert L. Wright Jr., a vice president who oversees UPMC’s sports medicine programs and facilities, said the site was never set in stone. He said UPMC and the Penguins have been concurrently examining the Sippel property for the last six months and decided that it “made the most sense” for the project based on cost, feasibility and timetable.
“When you put all of the factors together, at the end of the day, what both UPMC and the Penguins concluded was that the Sippel site was a better site for us,” Mr. Williams said.
The new site is located on the northeast side of Route 228 at I-79. Mr. Williams and Mr. Wright said it offers greater visibility from the interstate than the Cranberry Woods site as well as good access.
Mr. Rodgers said he was “very disappointed” about losing the complex and seemed to blame the township for the turn of events. He said it took a long time to get the proposed development before the planning commission and that “we ran out of time to deliver a pad to UPMC for their facility.
“I am upset about how long it took to get to the point that we ran out of time,” he said.
Mr. Rodgers said the traditional neighborhood design requirements imposed by Cranberry also made the project too expensive. He also accused the township of imposing “ridiculous requirements” above and beyond the ordinance that proved to be “insurmountable,” including a $1 million contribution for off-site improvements.
“I believe [UPMC and the Penguins] questioned whether we could get our site approved without significant changes and time delays. Therefore, they moved to a site that doesn’t have the obstruction of the traditional neighborhood design ordinance,” he said.
The Sippel site is zoned differently than Mr. Rodgers’ and does not have to meet the same design requirements.
Ron Henshaw, Cranberry’s director of community development, said Mr. Rodgers had requested the zoning for the Cranberry Woods site because it allowed for greater density than he would have received in any other zoning district.
As for the contributions toward off-site improvements, he said that Cranberry requires developers to pay for the impact their projects will have on its infrastructure.
“Either developers pay for it or taxpayers pay for it. We make developers foot the bill,” he said.
With the decision to change sites, UPMC and the Penguins will be “starting all over” in their quest to get the complex approved, Mr. Henshaw said. He added he was surprised they abandoned the Cranberry Woods development.
“We’ve been working for a long time on the Don Rodgers site with these folks. Quite frankly, we had just gotten to the point with the details that things were looking very favorable,” he said.
UPMC and the Penguins hope to start construction of the complex at the new site during the first quarter of 2014 and have it completed by July 2015. It will be built and owned by UPMC and the Penguins will lease space.
The UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, as the facility will be officially known, will feature two ice rinks, one with 500 seats and one with 1,000. The latter will serve as the team’s chief practice facility when Consol Energy Center is not available.
Penguins officials see the facility as a first of its kind in the country. It would be geared primarily toward hockey players, although it would be open to other athletes as well.
The sports medicine side, patterned after UPMC’s sports performance complex on the South Side, would feature an array of imaging suites and other state-of-the-art tools to help treat injuries and improve performance. There also would be rehabilitation and therapy areas.
In addition, the center would have a restaurant or cafe and a store that sells Penguins merchandise.
When the Penguins aren’t practicing at the complex, the rinks would be open to the public for skating and other events, including youth, high school, and college games, hockey camps, skating classes, learn-to-play programs and clinics. The center also would be the home of the Penguins Elite youth hockey program sponsored by the team.
The Penguins view the complex as another step in their developing partnership with UPMC, which provided doctors to travel with the team on the road last season, a first for a National Hockey League team.
And while the Cranberry Woods site did not work out for the team and UPMC, officials think they have found the right match with the new location.
“We’ve done a fair amount of due diligence and feel fairly confident that we’ll be able to close this and move forward along the timeline of opening it by July of 2015,” Mr. Williams said.
First Published July 16, 2013 6:06 pm